So – quite some time ago, now – a lovely human being of my acquaintance asked the twitterverse what, if anything, we would want to have included in a Polyamoury 101 workshop.
I answered that I would want to hear that you can experience jealousy and compersion at the same time. They’re not mutually exclusive or either/or.
A couple of people responded with, basically, yes, they’ve experienced both at the same time, too, and it’s really uncomfortable and confusing.
And I basically opened my mouth and didn’t shut it for a bit. The following is built around what I tweeted, ages ago, with some extra stuff added in to flesh it out:
 
So here’s the thing.
I’ve had plenty of experiences where I brought up Relationship Insecurity with a partner and, in some of those cases, the partner in question (Reader, I married her) took the opportunity to listen to my fears, reinforce our relationship bonds, and show me some love and care… and in others (my very first open relationship partner, in particular), my fears were met with “Well, maybe you’re just not really poly” and all the shaming and disregard that comes along with a statement like that.
I think those experiences (both of them) high-light a key thing about jealousy, which is that – for me, at least – jealousy is a kind of fear that is rooted in insecurity. Not self-insecurity (although that 100% plays a role), but relationship-insecurity. The fear that your relationship with a given partner is unstable. And the thing about that is that you can’t “fix” fears about perceived (real or imagined) instability and uncertainty in ONE diad by being Happy for the (overlapping) people in a different diad.
It can help, but it doesn’t actually solve the problem.
 
Seeing my sweeties be lovey-dovey with their Other Partners has usually been really wonderful to observe and/or hear about. Not always easy – I did have to learn how to sit with the ache of “Oh, but I want this, too…” and how to be comfortable watching my People be romantically affectionate (romantiffectionate?) with their (other) People – but generally something that I could parse as a Good Thing, and something to encourage, even when I wasn’t comfortable with sharing space with those activities.
The thing is, that sweetness never stopped me from aching for arms around me, for kisses/cuddles/erotics of my own.
It tempered it, sure, but it didn’t stop it.
 
Similarly, a metamour of mine, when she first hooked up with Our Mutual Partner, insisted on getting together for coffee with me a couple of times a month, one on one, just to hang out and get to know each other.
It was a really good idea! (I hated it, in the beginning, but I could still see that it was a good idea. As of now, though? Totally endorse this plan. 100%).
It is much harder to be actively hostile towards someone when you are actively pushing to feel some empathy with them.
But feeling some empathy for my metamour, and feeling lots of delight for my partner who had this new person in her life… neither of those things made those “Oh, but I want ice cream…” feelings go away.
 
Compersion and jealousy are SO OFTEN presented as opposites. “If you feel one, you WON’T feel the other”, “You should/can feel X instead of feeling Y”, these are the messages that I’ve consistently picked up from Poly 101 books and blogs. But, experientially, I’ve found that those feelings are based in two different areas.
 
Compersion comes from sharing joy with someone you care about.
Jealousy comes from feeling fear that your relationship is unstable.
You don’t stop feeling jealousy when you get “happy enough” for someone else. You stop feeling jealousy when you feel safe and secure in your diad(s).

 
Now, a bit of a caveat here: If your gut reaction to this is something along the lines of “Well, I wouldn’t feel insecure in my relationship if {Person} wasn’t dating, or doing X with, So-and-so”? You’re gonna need to investigate where that’s coming from.
Because usually it doesn’t really stop there.
Example (NOTE: Q and X are actually both me):

Q: Well, I wouldn’t feel so insecure in my relationship if {Person} wasn’t dating So-and-so.
X: Okay. How come?
Q: So-and-so is pushy and demanding without even thinking about it! And {Person} likes it!
X: Okay? Can you tell me about that?
Q: {Person} thinks So-and-so’s a natural domme. I just think she’s [redacted], but I’m so new at this whole power exchange thing, and I’m totally clueless and really uncomfortable with ordering her around, and I just…
X: [*nodding encouragingly*]
Q: I’m afraid she’s going to ditch me because So-and-so is better at Dominance than I am…

 
…Which is basically the sped-up version of a conversation I had with myself over the course of about six months during my first year with Ghost.
 
Look, I’ve tripped up a LOT on this one. If I’m feeling neglected in my relationships, I tend to get antsy/upset/jealous when the people I’m feeling neglected by are making time for the other people in their lives, but aren’t making time for me, or are offering affection to said other people, but not to me. (You get the idea).
If I feel safe asking for what I need, and if I am reliably getting those needs met in a given relationship, my heart is free to drop its armour and feel that shared joy for that partner. If I’m armoured up and self-protecting, due to personal insecurities (remember how I said they do play a part) and/or due to a given partner not reliably stepping up to do basic relationship maintenance or suggesting that me having relationship needs at all is, in some way, being Too Needy? Well, go figure, it’s a LOT harder to take my armour off!
 
It’s not so much that Compersion negates Jealousy (it doesn’t). It’s that SECURITY[1] calms the fear that manifests as “jealousy”. When that fear calms the F down, and your limbic system relaxes, you have a much easier time swinging to the Empathy (thanks Brene Brown…) end of the vulnerability dial (away from the “isolation”/shame end) and letting that shared joy shine.
Yes, you can (sort of) force yourself to feel less threatened by a given metamour by pushing yourself towards empathy and putting yourself in your metamour’s shoes (as the above Regularly Scheduled Coffee Hang-Outs can give one space to do[2]), but I find it’s far more effective (and easier on your heart) if you can come at it from the other direction.
Pushing for compersion (empathy) in order to calm jealousy is a Hack. It’s a bandage to help you (all of you) get through the interim. “Solving” jealousy doesn’t take compersion. It takes being secure in your own relationships. That takes longer (because self-work is a slow process + relationship security is a thing that takes time and consistency to develop), but it’s very much necessary.
 
To sum up:
Jealousy and compersion effect each other, but they are not opposites. They don’t cancel each other out, and you can totally experience them at the same time. So if you are experiencing them at the same time?
(A) You’re not doing poly “wrong” or anything like that
(B) While, yes, it’s good to put yourself in your metamour’s shoes (Empathy helps. Empathy is connection is vulnerability that doesn’t feel like danger. It’s good stuff and gods know the world needs more of it) ALSO look to the places in your own diads that feel uncertain or unstable. Talk to your partners and try (and it can take a bunch of attempts, trial and error is not a bad thing) to sort out those things within your relationships. Follow the thread of your anxiety past “I wish Partner wouldn’t do X with So-and-so” to what the root of your fear really is, and then take time with the Partner in question to address those fears within that relationship[3].
 
 
TTFN,
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] Which comes from both an internal sense of self-worth/worthiness (which is super hard for me and which I’ve been working on for the past ten years with, for sure, more years still to come) AND an external reality of a given partner walking their talk in terms of caring for and about you.
 
[2] Also recommended: Watch the entire Harry Potter series of movies, one movie per week, together with your metamour and the partner you have in common. I did this and, while at the beginning, Ghost was basically The Demilitarized Zone between the two of us on the couch, by the end? We were all hanging out and chatting over dinner and comfortable with each other, which is a massive big deal. Recommended!
 
[3] Pro Tip: It’s waaaaaay more effective to say “I need you to do XYZ with me” rather than to say “I need you to do XYZ with me but not with So-and-so” or “I need you to NOT do XYZ with So-and-so”. Why? Because, in saying “I need you to do XYZ with me”, you are telling someone who cares about you how to meet YOUR relationship needs, as opposed to asking them to prevent someone else (about-whom they also care, fyi) from getting their respective relationship needs met. It works WAY better.